Unlike so many homes, mine was one in which we frequently discussed money.
In fact, money is still one of my dad's favorite topics. When it comes to money, he often runs past any semblance of social respectability and instead proceeds to ask people where they bank, how much money they make, and what they're saving for retirement.
Though as a teenager these conversations frequently resulted in embarrassment, more recently, I've come to view them as a gift. Among other things, hearing Dad talk so incessantly about money taught me financial responsibility and the value of saving. After more than a decade in youth ministry, I've also realized just how few teens learn these lessons at the feet of their parents.
Contrary to my experience, teens often tell me money is never discussed in their homes or that when it is, it's discussed behind closed doors where they cannot hear the conversation. From this they're taught, “You don't need to worry about money” or “Money is a private matter”.
Unfortunately, we in the church often inadvertently communicate these same messages to our teens. Just think about how often we treat stewardship as a six-week campaign targeted at adults rather than as a lifestyle involving everyone.
A few months ago I was unexpectedly challenged about this when I interviewed Steve Corbett, the author of When Helping Hurts, for a Youth Worker Journal Roundtable on missions. One of the things Steve said during this interview was, “We need to tell kids, 'You really want to make a difference? Give that money month after month. Stay faithful.' [We need to emphasize] the idea of being a steady donor over time verses giving $100 here because you saw a YouTube commercial. That doesn't help create the stability you need.”
Steve's words have haunted me because I believe he's right. We in the church need to help kids understand why long-term giving matters. It's an act of obedience and a reflection of our hearts. Our gifts also directly impact people. They pay the salary of church staff, fund ministries near and dear to us (both inside and outside the walls of the church), and finance the ministries of long-term missionaries called to go where we are not.
To this end, I believe one of the most powerful things we can do to teach students why long-term giving matters is to bring them to fundraising banquets. Doing so accomplishes four things:
1. Fundraising banquets showcase ministries to teens, giving them a taste of their importance and ways to invest in them with their time, gifts, and talents. Fundraising banquets showcase the heart and soul of a ministry. They expand students' horizons beyond what they know about a ministry to it's broader scope.
2. Fundraising banquets allow students to hear someone other than you and their pastor teach about money. Sometimes, another voice can make students far more receptive to the message. Additionally, those who organize fundraising banquets know how to ask people for money in a compelling way. They understand how to tell the stories of need and they've analyzed exactly how much money it will cost for someone to meet that need. Having done both those things, they're unashamed to ask people to meet that need. The result? They ask and people give, willingly and openly. More often than not, people leave feeling good about having given because they know exactly how their money will be used to impact the lives of real people.
3. Fundraising banquets give teens a taste for the ways in which many organizations – not just churches – depend on people's generous donations. This prepares them for the reality that as they grow older and make more money, more and more people will ask them to support them. It also alleviates some of the inevitable awkwardness that occurs when students first walk into a fundraising banquet with their own checkbook, unsure of what to do or how to respond when people ask them for money so directly.
4. Fundraising banquets provide a natural connection point and opportunity to talk more openly about money with students. After such banquets, I've seen students react to how much money an organization was trying to raise, blown away by the enormity of it's need. This has prompted discussions about what it means for an organization to be non-profit, how our church raises money, why we give, and how we choose where and how much to give. When these conversations occur in the wake of a fundraising banquet, such conversations feel far more and authentic than they do elsewhere.
Certainly, taking teens to fundraising banquets is no panacea for the money woes that plague today's churches. However, doing so does make a traditionally private matter more public; It makes talking about money less threatening & less taboo. What's more, using not just words, but stories and experience also enables teens to see how giving impacts people and organizations in the real world.
That's a lesson I believe will serve them well – in church and in life – as they learn to be cheerful givers who are willing to use their resources for God's kingdom work.